When America First Meets Italy First

Donald Trump and Giuseppe Conte speak the same language but don’t have a lot in common.

Donald Trump Giuseppe Conte
American president Donald Trump and Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte arrive to a NATO summit in Brussels, July 12 (NATO)

My latest post for the Atlantic Council’s New Atlanticist blog previews next week’s meeting between American president Donald Trump and Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte.

Although the leaders got along well at the recent G7 and NATO summits, and share views on immigration, international relations and trade, I wouldn’t be surprised if the meeting turned out to be a disappointment.

On both military spending and trade — Trump’s pet peeves when it comes to Europe — Conte’s government opposes the American president.

  • Italy has serially underinvested in defense and is nowhere close to meeting NATO’s self-imposed 2-percent spending target.
  • Conte’s coalition is keen to protect so-called geographical indications for high-quality European products, like Gorgonzola and Parmesan cheese. It has threatened to withdraw support from a trade deal with Canada for this reason and is unlikely to accept more American imports.

Then there is Russia. Italy’s Five Star Movement and League share Trump’s sympathy for Vladimir Putin, but they believe closer European relations with Russia should come at the expense of the continent’s alliance with the United States.

Ideology isn’t everything. Conte and Trump may discover that while they speak the same language, they don’t have a lot in common. And without a sense of transatlantic solidarity, we have seen that disagreements even among longtime friends can quickly escalate in this new era.